Boston's Museum of Fine Arts said Wednesday that it’s investigating the provenance of two ancient bronze pieces in its collection to determine if they are part of a trove of stunning ancient Roman statuary looted from Turkey in the 1960s.

GBH News inquired about the two pieces in the days after the Worcester Art Museum turned over a Roman bust to be repatriated to Turkey. That piece, estimated to be worth $5 million, is believed to be part of the same looting at a site in the ancient city of Bubon.

“We are committed to following the highest standards of professional practice with regard to provenance research and determining the rightful ownership of works across our collection, including two classical bronze sculpture fragments,” the MFA said on Wednesday in a statement, in part. “We are dedicated to fully investigating the works’ chain of ownership and being transparent with our findings.”

Elizabeth Marlowe, a professor of art history and museum studies at Colgate University, has been tracking the Bubon bronzes for years. She said she’s pleased the MFA is acknowledging that the two pieces, a face and a leg fragment, may be from the looted site. Still, she believes the MFA could have moved sooner on the issue.

“I think they possibly didn’t realize that for a long time until I emailed them about it in 2019 and said, ‘Hey, you know ... that thing you got on the wall as a Hellenistic ruler, a portrait? That’s not Hellenistic, that’s Roman from this site,’” Marlowe said. “I have been asking them for information about that literally for years.”

A sorrowful face features curly carvings, emulating a light beard and luscious hair. It's a damaged piece, with one eye and half the scalp missing.
The Museum of Fine Arts is investigating the provenance of two pieces, including “A personification or idealized Greek king.”
Courtesy of the MFA

Marlowe did add that the MFA “in so many ways has been a leader in transparency, in provenance research.”

Several valuable pieces in other collections believed to be from Bubon have already been repatriated to Turkey as part of an investigation led by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Marlowe said the site was a shrine to multiple Roman emperors in what was, at the time, a more remote part of the empire. The looting destroyed invaluable archaeological context, she said, but if it had been left intact “this would be one of the single most important archeological discoveries of the 20th century — there's no doubt about that.”

“Our knowledge about the ancient world, and particularly about how the Roman emperor was understood in distant provinces of the Roman Empire — that's a really important question,” Marlowe said. “How did Roman imperialism actually play out on the ground in small cities of the Roman Empire? This would have really helped us understand that.”